Advice and development

Please don’t call me ‘the student’

Nursing students have names – and a reasonable expectation to be part of the healthcare team too 
Abby Martin

Nursing students have names – and a reasonable expectation to be part of the healthcare team too  

Picture: iStock

‘Hello, my name is Abby. I’m a student nurse on the ward for the next eight weeks, how are you?’

This is how I normally introduce myself to patients and staff.

In the first week or so of a new clinical placement, it is understandable that people may forget your name. But on my most recent placement, staff members were still calling me ‘the student’ well into my fourth week. I was even written up on the allocation board and rota as ‘student.’

Empower students

I suspected I wasn’t the only nursing student who experienced this, so I asked some of my peers in the Student Nurse Project – an online community I am part of that aims to empower students and newly qualified nurses by providing support and advice throughout their training and beyond.

‘Continuously being called ‘the student’ leaves you feeling deflated’

Third-year children’s nursing student Beth Phillips said she experienced this frequently – it had happened to her only the previous day – while Rachael Palmer, a second-year adult nurse at the University of Plymouth, said: ‘I've noticed that being called ‘the student’ occurs most often at morning handovers, ironically when introducing us by our name would have the most benefit for the staff that day. It's often in the context of “nurse X, you'll have the student(s) today,” and your heart sinks.’

So why do we feel this is a problem?

Continuously being called ‘the student’ leaves you feeling deflated. I had told people my name over and over again in the first few weeks of my placement, and the fact that nobody remembered it, or used it if they did, made me feel undervalued as a member of the nursing team.

Compassion at the core 

Not only does this have a negative effect on students’ morale, it is unprofessional. We are taught that compassion is one of the core elements of nursing, so why are some health professionals not displaying this in their treatment of nursing students?

When staff do make an effort to remember your name, it can make all the difference to your placement experience.

Claire Carmichael, a third-year adult nursing at Birmingham City University, told me: ‘Throughout my placements in my first year, I was always referred to “the student nurse.” This didn’t bother me at the time – I know nurses are under a lot of pressure and have a lot of student’s names to remember.

‘But my first placement of my second year was in general practice, where I was called by my name for the first time. I was put on the board as Claire, STN – abbreviation for student nurse – and all of the staff knew me by name. For the first time, I saw what the fuss was all about – it felt lovely that people knew my name and who I was. Small things like this made me feel valued as a team member, as if I was part of the team, even though I was only there for a short while.’

‘If the problem continues and it is bothering you, it is important to speak to your mentor or university’

On reflection, I feel I should have stood my ground more and had the confidence to confront those calling me ‘the student.’ This isn’t always an easy thing to do, but it is important that we tackle this as nursing students, especially among nurses or teams where not calling students by their names seems to be the culture or norm.

Polite and respectful

This doesn’t have to be done in a hostile or aggressive manner – you can make a joke out of someone not remembering your name or simply remind them of your name in a polite and respectful way.

But if the problem continues and it is bothering you, it is important to speak to your mentor or university, and as newly qualified nurse Debs Cooper points out, registered nurses should also remind colleagues about the importance of calling students by their names.

We understand that people forget names, and that’s okay. But when this does happen, instead of calling that person 'the student', just ask them what their name is or check their name badge.

This small act can make a world of difference to students. By working together, we can start to change the culture. 

Abby Martin is a third-year mental health nursing student at the University of Essex




This article was first published on 7 March 2019